How to Encourage Healthy Food Choices at Work

You Can If You Offer Your Employees Choices and Options

Employees eating healthy food choice of sushi and water for lunch.
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Think that your employees are interested in healthier food choices at work? They are—as long as you don't appear to be eliminating their other options.

Providing nutritional food choices for employees at work is controversial among employees. But, it may assist with employee wellness even though you should never force nutritional food choices on employees.

However, if your workplace is like mine, when is the last time you were offered a doughnut at a morning meeting?

Healthier food and beverage choices may—just maybe—becoming more widespread in workplaces.

Workplace Stories about Healthy Food Choices

Several client companies provide a free lunch once a week and supply all beverages at work free of charge to employees. At one office, the vegetarian choice for the free Friday lunches is always heavily subscribed.

But, when the final employees arrive for lunch, the vegetarian choices are often all that remain. And, when you look at the lunches that are consistently left-over, the meat-free options top the list. Do employees delude themselves into thinking healthy thoughts, and then, when presented with the reality at the lunch, go for the meat—usually another employee's choice?

For me, this falls into the same category as stealing another employee's lunch out of the break room refrigerator. What, you say, Tom's lunch looked better than yours? Did you forget to bring your lunch?

 Both examples join my list of unethical behaviors at work.

In another company, as part of an effort to gauge employee interest in wellness activities, an employee team asked other employees about whether they desired more nutritious beverage choices. Pop, flavored water, coffee, and tea were their current choices.

You would not believe the uproar, which even asking the question, caused. Employees were convinced that the food police were going to replace their favorite Coke, Pepsi, and Starbucks coffee with fruit juices and water.

Such an uproar over a seemingly small issue surprised the team but understand, the employee team was messing with the other employees' 18 inches of personal space, that hypothetical area that surrounds each person.

Employees' 18" of Personal Space

In this personal space, you'll find what employees eat, what employees wear, and what employees are required to do, such as punch a time clock or sign in at the office when arriving at work. Nothing upsets employees more than when they believe that someone is messing with their personal rights and space.

This personal space issue is why dress codes are notoriously difficult to introduce. And, the biggest uproar I have ever experienced at work occurred when a new principal required teachers to sign in on arrival at the school's main office.

The cubicle police are regarded by some employees as slayers of employee self-expression; other employees bless the day on which the pyramids of pop cans disappear. As you seek wellness options for employees, for best success, remember the significance of their 18 inches of space.

Healthy Food Options in the Workplace

According to a survey about healthy eating choices at work, commissioned by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM):

"'The poll found responsive organizations giving their diverse community of employees what they want and need—a wide array of food options,' said Mark Schmit, director of research at SHRM. 'HR professionals walk a fine line between creating initiatives to help employees and acting like the food police.
"Ultimately, the proactive approach to creating both formal and informal initiatives that support health and wellness, has been shown to have positive impacts on employees' lives and organizations' bottom lines.'"

More than half the employers surveyed do promote healthy food and beverage choices by:

  • providing healthy choices for company meetings, parties, and events;
  • providing healthier food options in office cafeterias; and
  • adding wholesome food options to vending machines.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of HR professionals surveyed do not think it is their responsibility to regulate employee food and beverage choices.

The study found that employers in the Midwest (49 percent) were more likely than organizations in the West (29 percent) to have formal or informal policies promoting healthier food and drink options at work. Larger companies and multinationals were more likely to offer these wellness choices.

Given the choices made daily by Americans who prefer French fries to vegetables by a large margin, anything an employer can do to help can make a difference in employee eating choices. Did you know that salad consumption, as the main course at restaurants for lunch or dinner, has sunk by half since 1989 to 5 percent?

The, now recommended, nine servings of vegetables a day for people eating 2000 calories, is nothing but a distant dream, according to Kim Severson, writing for The New York Times in "Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries." This is shocking.

But, consider the opportunity that you have for your next employee luncheon. Offer a variety of dark green, leafy lettuces with toppings that include vegetables, cheese, and meats; dressings with several low-fat choices; and crusty bakery bread with peanut butter, jelly, and butter.

You can't (and you shouldn't) try to control employee eating choices at work, but you can offer options that give everyone healthy choices. The rest is up to them.

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